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The road to Chioya deteriorates as it climbs into the mountains, turning to rough gravel as it nears the village. From Chioya, a network of foot trails begin, leading up into the steep lush mountains surrounding the village. Most of the stoves we installed today were in homes in the mountains, and accessible only by foot. The mountains are beautiful, steep, lush, craggy in places, reminding me a lot of the Columbia Gorge east of Portland. There are even tall stands of pine trees that look similar to our ponderosas. My group visited six homes today in these hills. After the first one, closest to the village, our guide pointed to a barely visible structure near the top of a ridge across a steep valley, a good half mile away as the crow flies. Several of us laughed when he said it was one of the homes we´d be visiting. But he wasn´t joking. We were grateful for the blue skies and marveled at the Guatemalans traveling with us, strolling along as if they were on a flat paved trail as we sweated and heaved and rested. The men, who look like they average five foot five and 125 pounds, carried all the pieces of the stoves to their homes prior to our arrival. The heaviest piece of the stove weighs 145 pounds!It is mind boggling to step into a 400-square-foot house where 5-10 people are living and still have it feel spacious… because there is almost nothing inside. The only food you see is dried corn and in most, there are no dressers for clothes, hardly any other furniture, and no toys for the children. There are a few metal pots and plastic bowls. The floors are damp clay, and the walls and ceiling near the open fire pit are coated in black soot. They have almost nothing but each other. The people in the hills were, as yesterday in town, very welcoming (though shy at first) and grateful for the stoves. We stumbled through conversations with our limited Spanish and extremely limited Queq´chi, and the people were very appreciative of our humble attempts to communicate. At each home, we were offered bread rolls and drinks, including tea, coffee, juice, purified water or other local drinks made of rice or corn, sugar and water. Several families served watermelon too. The food seems to appear from thin air. This act of generosity is extremely humbling.Joining my group today were four local men who are simply along to help their neighbors. They work hard but maintain a very light and joyful attitude, teasing each other and us at every opportunity. When one of us managed to push a joke through the language barrier, they roared with laughter and slapped their knees. By the end of the day, several were challenging us to learn the names of plants, tools and other sights in Spanish and Queq´chi, and asking us how to say things in English. They were generous in their praise and diligent in learning English words. Working and communicating together has bonded us, even if all we can manage at times is to say each other´s names.At lunch time, our team leader Aimee (who I call the Pied Piper for her way with these children) got a big group of us and the village kids to play a game of duck duck goose. Our laughter and cheers drew a huge crowd of onlookers, mainly mothers who snickered at our silliness. To be here is an amazing gift. I don´t have words for it yet and it is certainly challenging to see such poverty and health problems, but there is a lot of joy as well and as I think back on the day, the feeling I remember most is happiness and loving connection with my coworkers and the families we are with.
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